DES MOINES — Any hope for a medical marijuana debate in the Iowa House died Thursday.
“This bill will not advance any further,” said Rep. Clel Baudler, R-Greenfield, a retired Iowa State Patrol trooper and member of a House subcommittee that refused to pass the measure to the full House Public Safety Committee for consideration.
Baudler’s declaration dashed the hopes of supporters who testified that medical marijuana helps relieve pain, nausea and other painful symptoms for people suffering from debilitating conditions such as cancer, AIDS and multiple sclerosis.
Critics countered that prescription drugs are available that provide similar benefits. They also said legalizing medical marijuana would provide easier access to cannabis for recreational use — especially among young Iowans who already have a high treatment incidence for the addictive drug.
Steve Lukan, director of the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy, said successful efforts have been waged to keep young people drug-free, but he warned they would be “getting mixed messages” if the Iowa Legislature allowed the establishment of nonprofit medical marijuana dispensaries for patients to obtain the medication as prescribed in House File 22.
“Slow down and think about this,” Lukan, a former Iowa House member, told the three-member subcommittee. “There are a lot of unintended consequences that would move Iowa in the wrong direction.”
The legislation proposed by Rep. Bruce Hunter, D-Des Moines, sought to establish a medical marijuana act that would allow the possession and use of marijuana for therapeutic purposes. Under the measure, qualifying patients with diagnosed, debilitating medical conditions who were issued registry identification cards would not be subject to arrest, criminal prosecution, civil penalty or denied any right or privilege related to their medical use of marijuana.
“These aren’t just some stoners looking for their next high,” Hunter told panel members. “They are real people looking for real relief for real pain.”
In 2010, after holding hearings around the state to get public feedback, the Iowa Board of Pharmacy recommended that state legislators reclassify marijuana and set up a system to allow the drug to be used medically. On Thursday, Lukan successfully asked a separate House subcommittee to approve a measure, House Study Bill 52, that would remove any ambiguity by clearly establishing that the legislature is the controlling authority on the medical marijuana issue and the classification of controlled substances.
Rep. Rick Olson, D-Des Moines, said he believed it would be better for medical experts to make such determinations rather than lawyers, farmers, retired teachers and others who make up the General Assembly.
During Thursday’s wide-ranging discussions, Chancy Yeast of Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines and Erin Kennedy, a substance abuse prevention specialist from Nevada, warned legislators not to move ahead with easier access to the illicit substance that also could carry employment implications if bus drivers, teachers or others might be working under the influence as qualified patients under the medical marijuana act.
Critic said the issue should be addressed as a public-health issue rather than a law enforcement issue. Mike Niday, a Marine Corps veteran suffering from a post-traumatic stress disorder, said representatives should be listening to Iowa voices, not conducting a “witch hunt.” Multiple sclerosis sufferer Ray Lakers said he would have to move to Colorado if Iowa did not join 18 other states and the District of Columbia where the use of medical marijuana is allowed.